INNOCENT BYSTANDERS

THEY MET BY ACCIDENT AT SAGURO LAKE. A WEEK LATER, THEY WRER IN JAIL.

In another attempt to calm Fair down, Frank Alber brings up the arrests of Miller and Nelson.

"They had one set of prints, and they have the guy who was there and also out at Saguaro Lake," he says.

"Do you know those guys?" Fair asks.
"I swear to God, I never heard of em," Alber says. "Never saw em. Never heard of em."
@rule:
@body:The FBI had more than enough evidence to arrest Frank Alber on February 25. In a search of his home, federal agents found a draft of the extortion letter to Kaplan and other incriminating items.

They also found something they considered critical at the time to their conspiracy theory: a canceled check from Frank Alber to a Mike Miller.

Things were coming together.
Alber waived his right to an attorney down at FBI headquarters after his arrest. At first he denied wrongdoing, admitting little more than that he had fallen on financial hard times and was working nights at a 7-Eleven store.

He told the agents he didn't know a Mark Nelson. But he did know a Mike Miller, he said. Did he write a check to that Miller recently? the feds asked him. Sure did, Alber said. That's the name of my divorce lawyer.

The agents then told Alber they had a tape recording of his recent conversation with Rick Fair. Alber admitted he had asked Fair to make the extortion call, because he'd feared Marc Kaplan would recognize his voice.

Alber swore, however, he hadn't sent the extortion note and "had no idea" how a draft of the letter had gotten into his home.

Despite many, many unresolved questions about the involvement of Mark Nelson and Mike Miller, prosecutor Chuck Hyder felt comfortable enough on February 26, 1992, to present the conspiracy case to a federal grand jury.

Keith Tolhurst, the FBI special agent in charge, testified that Mike Miller had not made the extortion call, though Miller's fingerprints were on the pay phone. The agent admitted he hadn't been able to link Nelson and Miller except for the single meeting at Saguaro Lake.

As for a prior relationship between Nelson and Frank Alber, Tolhurst testified it wasn't "conclusive, but we do know that Mr. Alber was attempting to promote a concert with some large-name musical acts . . . and we also know that Mark Nelson claims to be a music promoter of some type."

And what about Alber and Mike Miller? "The only connection that we really have at this time is that they both seem to live in the Chandler area," the agent replied. The government neglected to tell the grand jury about the secretly taped discussion between Frank Alber and his friend Rick Fair.

That conversation--I swear to God, I never heard of em"--certainly favored the suspects. Under federal law, Hyder was obliged to present any exculpatory evidence--that is, evidence that might clear the suspects.

®MDRV¯"I knew of the tape," Hyder says, "but I hadn't read the transcript or heard it before we went to the grand jury. You have to understand, the investigation wasn't completed when we presented the case. We feared for the safety of the boy and we had to go early. The grand jury heard everything that I knew at the time."

But there were other oddities. Although there were four men at Saguaro Lake that day, Hyder brought charges only against Miller and Nelson. Hyder won't say why he didn't prosecute ®MDNM¯the two other men who had been at the lake®MDRV¯.®MDNM¯ ®MDRV¯But it appears t®MDNM¯he feds had as much®MDRV¯, ®MDNM¯or as little®MDRV¯, ®MDNM¯evidence®MDRV¯on the other two men as they had on Nelson.®MDNM¯

®MDRV¯Last February 26, ®MDNM¯the federal grand jury indicted Alber, Nelson and Miller on charges of conspiracy and of mailing threatening communications.

@rule:
@body:The FBI interviewed dozens of people in the days after the indictments against the three men. But the government's case kept getting weaker and weaker.

"We try to gather as much information as possible during our investigation," FBI Special Agent Al Davidson tells New Times, "and then let the prosecutor make the decisions about where to go from there. Sometimes, there may be enough evidence to show 'probable cause' that a person has committed a crime, but there isn't enough to convict that person. That may be what happened in this case."
Mike Miller's boss told the feds Miller hadn't worked that day because of the rain, but had dropped by his house late that afternoon with his friend and co-worker, Bennett. Miller told him he and Bennett had met two other men at the lake. One of them, the longhaired one, had given him a business card, which he showed the boss.

The boss added that he couldn't fathom Miller being part of an extortion plot. Why, the kid didn't plan for more than a few hours ahead, and even then, it concerned only when and where he was going to party.

Miller's friend corroborated, in a separate FBI interview, Miller's goofy story about following a rain cloud to Saguaro Lake. Bennett, too, said he didn't know Mark Nelson or Nelson's friend.

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